A drug compound currently in development at the University of Texas at Austin has been shown to successfully block alcohol withdrawal symptoms in two animal models, opening the door for a potential new medication to treat alcohol use disorder in humans.
Currently, there are several medications on the market that are used—both as indicated or off-label—to treat alcohol use disorder, including gabapentin, naltrexone and topiramate (Topamax).
“There are a few out there,” says James Sahn, UT Austin research scientist in chemistry and co-first author of the paper reporting the findings on the new medication in development. “Some are used as indicated, some are used off-label. The drawback is their efficacy. None of them are highly efficacious, although they can work well for small groups of people. The side effect profile is also not ideal for some of them. ... There is plenty of room for something with fewer side effects and something that helps a larger subgroup.”
Sahn says the compound being researched at UT Austin, called JVW-1034, targets a receptor in the brain and spinal cord not previously identified to have a connection to alcohol. Scientists conducted tests with two populations: worms and rats. After being exposed to alcohol, the organisms in both rounds of testing showed impaired motor skills. But after being treated with the molecules in development, the rats and worms resumed normal levels of activity.
The UT Austin scientists published their findings in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Although the results of the tests on worms and rats were encouraging, Sahn and fellow co-first author Luisa Scott, a UT Austin neuroscience research associate, tell Addiction Professional their compound will require further refinement before it is a viable drug candidate to block alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings in humans, likely in a pill form.
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